I have rarely been called beautiful.

Beautiful is not for girls like me, so I have been told.

I have felt beautiful a few times – but it is not something that I am, so I have been told.

Pretty. Yes, pretty.  

I have been called that often enough that I even believed it sometimes.

Cute, adorable sometimes.

Sweet has been uttered more than a few times in reference to me.

All words that others have used to describe me, to describe who I am.

What I am really, not who; because who I am is what I am of course – and that is wrapped up easily in descriptors of my physical attributes.

These are the words that sprinkle my life like garnish.

Garnish that the entree that is me needs to be adorned with if I am to really be complete.

“Make sure you wear something nice for your first day of school. No one is going to want to talk to you if you don’t look approachable.”

“Smile. You’re prettier when you smile. You’re not going to make any friends if you don’t smile.”

“How are you ever going to find someone if you go out looking like that?”

“You could be so much prettier if you just put in some effort.”

 

Helpful words of advice to the younger me so that I could learn how to perfectly present the commodity of me for approval.

For purchase.

For acceptance.

For friendship.

For love.

I was the best student of these lessons – I always aim to be perfect so why should I not be perfect at this learning after all.

I have known since as far back as I can remember that I am worth something to someone if I am pretty, cute, quiet, polite,well-behaved…good… but mostly if how I look and behave is “right”.

That “right” though is the slippery, elusive, mist-shrouded image always just out of my grasp.  

It is a picture made by someone else that I could never seem to bring into focus.

A picture that I knew held the secret to me feeling “right”.

For so many years, every incarnation of me was shaped to try to fill the nooks and crannies of the boxes that I kept trying to fit into.

Girls that looked like me did certain things – and didn’t do certain other things.

Girls like me behaved a certain way.

They lived inside very specific boxes.

Boxes that fit girls like me.

Except that they didn’t fit me.

They hurt.

Trey pinched and chafed and suffocated.

I tried to pretend that I poured into them effortlessly and perfectly but I could never live that lie for long before the boxes just hurt too much.

Over and over again.

So many times that after a while I didn’t even know what shape I was and what the box would look like that DID fit me perfectly.

 

I felt wrong.

Wrong in a way that can’t ever be made right.

 

It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t need a box to live inside of.

I had learned the lessons so well that I knew – not just knew but believed so deeply that it was truth – that I was not complete if I wasn’t framed in someone else’s parameters.

It never occurred to me that the package that I came in was complete and perfect and whole.

That there is no such thing as “girls like me”.  

That the real truth is that I am the box.

And it is not wrong.

It is right, perfectly right.

And it’s rightness has nothing to do with how it looks.

And that is fucking beautiful.

I learned something this weekend. I learned that I can not only love myself but I can be thankful to my body. This is a pretty important thing for me to learn.

Early last week, as I was getting ready for this past weekend’s race, http://muddsweatandtears.com/ , I pulled a calf muscle. This, after still dealing with an ongoing issue of a hamstring tear from 2 months ago and to say I was feeling frustrated would be an understatement. I am blessed to work in an environment that I have, at my disposal, physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture so I worked with them all to try to get my leg in some sort of shape to just make it through the race. By Friday, my calf was functional for walking but I knew it was going to be a really rough go for the Saturday morning race. Not a big deal though… I have a great pain tolerance and routinely work through injuries and such.

Friday night in the hotel room; 12 hours before the race… my nerves are on, I’m worried and scared a bit… and the unthinkable happens… while putting away my laptop, it slips and falls on my foot. Cutting my toe and breaking it. Bruising and swelling comes up instantly and the pain is searing. Not once do I even think I won’t race though. For the first time in a very long time, I connect. I breath and I talk to my body. Really talk… and not with hate or anger or disdain like I usually do.

My attitude with my body has always been one of me against my body. Out for a run and a muscle starts to go… do I stop or slow and make sure to not injure it? Not on your life… I push on, all the while berating my body for being weak and for betraying me when I need it. I have spent my life starving it, hating it, cutting it and purposely hurting it… why? Because at the root of it all… this body houses someone that I don’t like and, at times, hate. Harsh words, and an even harsher reality when I realized that this weekend.

As I stood there Friday night and stared at my swelling and swiftly bruising toe I silently told my body that it was ok. That we would deal with this, together. That I knew that we could handle it and that it wouldn’t stop us. Something shifted. I don’t know if it’s for good but it’s a start.For the first time in a long time, I treated my body with kindness and compassion.

The next morning as I got ready to shower and get ready, I was alone and quiet in the bathroom and I took some time to actually talk to my body… it sounds odd but I haven’t done that for a long time… not in a connecting way. It wasn’t a pep talk or a “let’s go get er done” sort of thing. It was an intimate and simple few moments of acknowledging what it has done for me and thanking it. Of expressing that I know the demands and the unthanked expectations that I place on it… and letting it know that, deep down, I honour it and do love it. I saw my body in the mirror for the first time in a long time as a part of me that isn’t something to be judged or tolerated or demandingly ordered about, but as a part of me that needs love and acceptance and acknowledgement.

I saw a body that may not look like the “ideal” but that is strong and capable and always, always, always rises to the demands I ask of it – to it’s best ability. Never giving up or giving half best. A body that carried and birthed and nursed my 4 children. A body that has the scars and stretch marks that tell the stories of my life. A body that has carried me through the experiences that have made me who I am today and will be there as I experience what will shape who I am tomorrow. A body that deserves so much more love than I have given it. A body that is, simply, my vessel for this life and all that I have and will ever experience.The home to my spirit and the harbour that my Self resides in.

And something amazing came out of this weekend. A lesson that is still a work in progress, but a lesson that is clearer than before at least. As I ran and climbed and crawled and battered myself through the race – it was as one with my body, not once did I think about whether I was 10 pounds lighter or if my thighs were “too big” or my breasts “too small”… not once did I criticize my body… I ran that race and actually consciously thanked my body as I did… taking time to stop and say to myself how great I was doing and how strong I was – and how proud of myself that I was – how proud of my body that I was that it was doing what I asked and needed of it, like it always did. How as I pushed it, it came through…time and again, even when it was injured and sore and more exhausted than I can remember it being in a long long time. And I loved myself, body and spirit. And it felt good.

As the days pass from Saturday and the race, I’m reminded that it is very much a work in progress and the old habits are still there and the disconnect is still present… but… to have had that taste of what it feels like and how I can be with my body, I know that it’s not only possible, it’s going to be more and more like that.

To be able to have joy and abundance in my life, physically,  is too important to miss because of an inability to love myself.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

I have spent most of my life dealing with and trying to have a normal life despite, anorexia and bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder. But what happens when someone who sees herself as gross and disgusting and fat actually *becomes* truly overweight and “big” and it’s not just in her head?

Even at my worst with starving myself – or when I was “better” and just throwing up the food that I ate – I knew, rationally that I was not the size and shape that my eyes saw and my hands felt. I was logical enough to be aware of my distorted view. It didn’t change how I saw myself or how I felt but there was a sliver of talking myself off the maniacal ledge of self-hate with reason and logic. I am first and foremost a logical person and emotions can, and have been, simply put on hold to listen to reason.

But here I find myself 18 pounds up in the last almost 2 years. Time after time trying to lose the weight and finding myself now heavier every month. A body destroyed from years of abuse of starvation now metabolically messed up. Eating a “normal” amount of food causes weight gain. I have had by basal metabolic rate tested and it is well below “normal” range. A caloric intake that would maintain on most, on me packs weight on fast. A simple fact and one I am trying to change with regular, structured eating but it appears to have no impact. I exercise 6 days a week and workout hard. Sweat dripping off of me. 60 plus minutes of cardio plus weight training… all to simply watch the scale and the measurements slowly go up over the last 2 years. I have had every blood test imaginable to check hormonal function. Nothing. Everything not only normal but , according to my doctor, better than most people in their twenties. So it’s not medical.

A closet full of clothes that no longer fit, no matter how I try to squeeze my ever-growing, disgusting body into them. Mornings filled with shame that I can’t wear my work clothes and seeing another summer come toward me knowing that none of my dresses or skirts fit properly. A week of down 2 pounds followed by one of up 3. Down 3 pounds, up 2. No changes the best I can hope for. Any hope or belief that I can actually make a change seriously faltering and giving way to the realization that no matter how hard I try, I can’t love myself like this.

It’s not all in my head. Clothes don’t lie. Sizes on labels that are up 2 and 3 sizes from what is “normal” show that yes, it’s really me getting fatter and fatter and more and more gross to myself every week. This is not case of me just needing to decide to love myself how I am. I can’t and won’t. I can’t be bigger every week and just shrug it off and declare that I’m beautiful no matter what and I’m fabulous. I shrink from the idea even of anyone being near me physically.

My intimate life non-existent and with no prospect of that changing starting to devastate me. I can’t fathom the idea of anyone touching me or having their eyes on me. It’s not as simple as what people tell me… your body is a vessel etc. Yes, I know that… and I have brief flickering nanoseconds of feeling that… but the actual ability to be naked in front of someone, anyone… is an impossibility to me. The disgust and self-hatred that I have for my body and how it looks and feels trumps any desire to be close or intimate with anyone. Factor in that there is the underlying base feeling of such intense loathing for my body that why in the world would I want to have it feel good when it (and I, by connection) don’t deserve to feel good… and you have a recipe for celibacy and isolation which is where I have been for a very long time now.

There is no happy ending to this. A lifetime of wanting so badly to be free of this and now facing the reality that I am not only no closer, but in fact getting worse almost daily. At 42 years old my potential to finally find the self acceptance that I’ve yearned for is slipping away quickly. I can’t even tell myself that I need to just move past what’s in my head because now, it sure as hell isn’t just in my head anymore… and that isn’t something I can just get past.

So I put people off, I turn down offers and dates and don’t even want to casually socialize most of the time anymore. I can’t explain fully enough that really and honestly, it’s not you, it’s me.